Guest blog: Rewilding Preschool Children

by Sarah Mason

18th November, 2021

Hello! I am Sarah, a rewilding enthusiast and mum of two small children. I would like to share with you my experience of engaging my two young children with the natural world and rewilding. As an adult there are countless ways that connecting with nature enriches my life but the benefits I see in my children from this experience are endless and without doubt the most joyful experiences we have had as a family. Whether it’s building their resilience, instilling in them a respect for the natural world, inspiring their creativity or simply giving them an outlet for their seemingly limitless energy the natural world has been our ‘go to’ place. Even our small garden provides endless opportunities for physical and imaginative play, just this morning I was greeted to a breakfast of homecooked conkers in our play kitchen. Plus – it’s free and always open – even at 5am during a covid lockdown!

My son (2 years old) seems to have an unlimited fearless energy. His interactions with the natural world are mostly terrifying for me to watch but I try and remember the quote from the Last Child in the Woods ‘A broken arm in childhood is better than a broken spirit in adulthood’ to prevent me from curtailing his enthusiasm for climbing high into the trees, running into the lakes, throwing himself off rocks and eating copious amounts of soil (I draw the line at manure from the allotment!).

My daughter (4 years old) is more considered and creative in her play. She loves to take her nature books out on a walk and make homes for minibeasts that she finds. She loves to collect plants from the garden and make table decorations from them. She finds joy in the beauty of the natural world and a sense of her place in the universe. She tracks time through nature – she understands that she needs to wait until the leaves fall off the trees before Father Christmas will come and that she needs to wait until the wildflowers and swifts are back before she will start school.

At 4 years old, although young, she can now understand some basic rewilding ideas. We have introduced the idea of shifting baselines: we heard some cuckoos this summer and we talked about how, when I was small, I heard them frequently, but we don’t hear them often and that I miss them. We wondered what Grandma might have heard when she was a little girl. We have talked about why there are no bears here anymore and what impact we think they would have if they were here and what might not be alive when she is grown up, specifically hedgehogs.We have explored the long grass and the short grass in the garden to compare what we can find and discussed why we only see grey squirrels even though the squirrels in the Gruffalo book are red. And, our family favourite, we have talked endlessly about why Grandad thinks we should mow the lawn once a week and why Daddy doesn’t think we should and why, in general, the neighbours might think that our garden is messy – but we don’t think so!

One of her favourite plants is Ragwort, we came across it at a nature reserve and it was covered in cinnabar moth caterpillars – since then she has been excited to hunt for caterpillars wherever we see Ragwort (anyone who loves Ragwort must be a rewilder at heart!).

These conversation and interactions are all building something in them. I can see my daughter starting to understand the basic concepts and the connectivity of everything around us –

“Mummy I won’t pick those flowers because I will save them for the bees.”

“Unicorns aren’t extinct because they were never real, but dinosaurs are extinct.”

“When we die will the tiny bugs eat us like they eat the hedgehog?”

Many of our most joyful family memories so far have been from our interactions with the natural world. This summer we kept some caterpillars and released the butterflies into the garden when they emerged. We spent most weekends at a local lake playing on the sand beach in the water, and at our local nature reserves. As we now move into Autumn, or fire and marshmallow season as we like to call it, we have begun to have our dark nature walks on an evening – looking for hedgehogs, owls and bats in our local neighbourhood.

We also have a moth (we think?) overwintering in a bedroom cupboard which we are observing and as I stock up on winter thermals for them so we can keep playing outside all winter I am also wondering what rewilding themed Christmas presents might be on the list this year – I know the top of my list is a Pleistocene megafauna toy set!